Judge’s ruling sets bad precedent

A New Orleans judge has decided that the city has a right to audit the local School Board, in essence, giving the city authority to examine the records of an agency that is entirely separate from the city itself. How silly is that? It’s like authorizing the police jury of St. Helena Parish to audit the city of Monroe.

The St. Helena government and the Monroe city government have the same legal relationship as New Orleans’ city government has with its School Board. The only difference is mileage.

Because the city collects taxes for the schools and sends the money to the School Board, Judge Christopher Bruno says that gives the city the right to audit the schools.

By that logic, since the sheriffs of most Louisiana parishes serve as ex-officio tax collectors for the entire parish, local sheriffs have the right to oversee all records of all cities, towns, school boards, levee districts and every other local agency, but at the same time the judge has given the city no responsibility to open its own records to anyone except the state.

This goes beyond simply looking at financial documents. As I understand it, the judge is giving the city the right to inspect everything. Personnel records, employee insurance records, individual students’ academic and health records — virtually every piece of paper or digital document the school system may have would be available to the city. If this were to stand, local sheriffs/tax collectors could eventually win the same right to total access to nearly every record in nearly every community.

Talk about a potential for political power plays!

Bruno’s ruling defies the state’s own constitution, which says “no Home Rule charter or plan of government shall contain any provision affecting a school board. …”

But Hizzonor has his own definition of the word “affect,” a definition which gives the city of New Orleans the right to peek into every nook and cranny of school records in spite of being specifically prohibited from doing just that. Bruno’s ruling will no doubt be appealed and should be overturned.

Russ Wise

St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member